How did Mark Sanford lose last night? Take a guess

When I woke up this morning, I flipped on Morning Joe only to hear the results of the South Carolina GOP primary for the 1st Congressional District. That would be the one currently held by Mark “Hiking the Appalachian Trail” Sanford. It quickly became obvious that Sanford had lost his primary to state legislator Kate Arrington. Scarborough was providing a glowing rundown of Sanford’s career, starting with his “remarkable” comeback after falling from grace, going on to note how much of a solid conservative he was. Joe then declared that Sanford’s loss was because he “said a couple of bad things about Donald Trump” and this was proof that the Republican Party is now a “Trumpist cult.” Seriously?

Here’s how NBC News covered the loss.

Hours after a last-minute broadside from President Donald Trump, South Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Sanford lost his primary race on Tuesday night, according to The Associated Press, possibly ushering in an end to a political career plagued by a major scandal.

Earlier Tuesday night, as the results were still coming in, Sanford suggested he was ready to throw in the towel. “I think I’ll end up losing this election,” he said.

Moments after arriving back in the U.S. from Singapore on Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted his congratulations.

It’s possible that Sanford’s regular bashing of the President may have been one factor, but let’s not kid ourselves. He was hardly a lock to win to begin with. Trump didn’t even endorse his opponent until the polls were almost closed last night. Sanford won his House seat in a low turnout special election in 2013 and then kept his head down for the most part and hung onto it with the power of incumbency. But even then, he barely got more than 50% of the vote when retaking his seat so it’s not as if there was a groundswell of support for him.

Also, there’s been a distinct shift in the national mood of late in case you hadn’t noticed. Sanford’s original scandal revolved around the fact that he was cheating on his wife with an Argentinian journalist, lying to the public about it and was later caught trespassing at his former home in violation of their separation agreement. That’s not a great backstory to bring to the campaign trail in the middle of the #MeToo moment. Combine that with the fact that he was running against a woman and it’s not hard to see how he might have run into electoral trouble.

His past was bound to come back to haunt him in the general election. Keep in mind that while SC-1 is fairly solidly red, Sanford only managed to take 54% of the vote against Stephen Colbert’s sister so there was enough opposition available to give him trouble. What the GOP voters did last night may have been a move to trade in a scandal-plagued incumbent in favor of someone who will bring less baggage into the November election. Was Trump support a factor in this race? Probably. But it was hardly the entire story.